I’m in an odd place right now.
There’s a very easy joke to make here about geography. I’m currently in the town I grew up in, Hornsea, in East Yorkshire. It is indeed an odd place, but these days I’m more sanguine about its backwater charms than I was a decade and a half ago, desperate to escape it at any cost. It’s a sleepy, somewhat neglected seaside resort and when it’s a fine day, you can have a fine day out here. Just don’t go waving your phone around. Or…books. Bad idea, wouldn’t end well. It’s that kind of place.
(You see how easy it is for me).
The odd place I currently occupy also isn’t my childhood home, which is a somewhat dog-ravaged semi-detached house on the top of a hill that my Mum has occupied since 1982. (The house, not the hill – she’s not quite that entrenched). It’s good to be home, as I’ve been away enough to find it bearable again, and when my Mum’s dogs aren’t flinging themselves through the air in an attempt to eat my face, it’s a pleasant place to hole up and get work done.
Because that’s the odd place. My work. What I do.
I’m newly back from attending and speaking at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Umbria, Italy, following which I was lucky enough to join one of 6 blog-trips (tours of the region) organised by TBU and Umbria On The Blog. I’ve never been on a blog-trip before, and since they’re a source of contention in some professional circles, alongside press trips, I wanted to make my own mind up. I also wanted to experience a little more of Umbria than the (admittedly gorgeous) conference centre at Valle di Assisi. That also felt like an odd place to be, at the time, because it’s located outside Assisi proper with a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding hills – and like during my visit to Giulianova in 2006, deep in another rural Italian heartland, the sight of those rolling hills brought out the probably suicidal amateur walker in me, brought him out yelling for his walking boots and a rucksack of Kendal mint cake.
And I was speaking. My first piece of public speaking since a lacklustre performance at the end of my Archaeology degree in 2000. This time, I was speaking about storytelling and why it matters beyond the confines of fiction. Why it’s in everything. So, I ranted and strode back and forth and read off a script that I’d put together like I was writing a blog post for this very website, and I said sarcastic things. And fun was had. (I think)
(Fortunately for both of us, there’s no video – but I’m currently reworking it into a PDF handout that I will be releasing over social media and through this blog. Want a copy? Either leave me a comment below or check back later when it’s available – or do both, which will make me feel really loved).
Then, around Umbria with the blogtrip. And then into the north of Umbria, staying with a friend (where the top picture was taken). All incredible. Umbria seriously won me over. I will be writing about everything I saw and ate and drank over the next few weeks when I’ve processed these things properly (yes, I think I’m still full from the food), but it’s an extraordinarily lovely part of Italy and at every turn, we were met with kindness, enthusiasm and a wealth of hospitality. Blog trips in general? Interesting topic, and I’m still processing. TBU’s blog trips and Umbria? Really wonderful experiences.
And now, sometime, I want to walk Italy, top to bottom, with a backpack.
You heard me.
After all, what could go wrong?
(That’s what I usually say just before things go massively wrong, which they almost always do. If you’re a betting person and you’re running a book on me, use that as a marker. And hey, I’ll put a tenner on the idiot getting into trouble within 24 hours).
But I wasn’t myself in Italy. Not really. I was exhausted. Fried. I’d just left York, just quit my job to become a fulltime writer, and I’d just moved house, with everything that entails in terms of 10 years of possessions. I’m not currently a location-independent ‘digital nomad’, but I’m also not not one, either.
In short, I’m in an odd place. Poised between two worlds, with my head in both.
Next? Building freelance work, tripping abroad as often as time & income allow, trying to work with people I’ve always wanted to work with, and catching up on everything that fell by the roadside when I was squeezing my writing into my post-dayjob evenings, over in York. But more than that – I’ll be throwing myself into storytelling. Because that’s my thing, and it goes in two directions. My talk at TBU is the start of some big plans regarding writing about the craft of storytelling, and I’ll be announcing those in here when they’re finalised. I want to get people thinking about this stuff, not just with regards to travel-writing but in the wider sense, for anyone who wants to learn how to put something in someone else’s head in a way that stays with them forever. Does that sound powerful? That’s what stories can do, like nothing else. Stick with me, and I’ll prove it to you.
But more than that, I’d be a pretty poor evangelist for storytelling if I wasn’t doing it myself, so I’ll be stringing many a yarn for all sorts of markets. Some will be fantastical (because I love fantastical things). Others will sound fantastical but will, tragically, be completely true. And in between, you’ll find the usual mix of travel and geekery and withering sarcasm, right here in huge, unpalatable bursts. That’s how I roll.
So, a lot will be going on.
I’m just in an odd place right now, getting my breath back.
Images: Mike Sowden.